Mainstreaming the apartheid lie in the heart of the NY glitterati

On October 22nd, the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA) – a prominent organization of legal scholars and practitioners – will work to help normalize the antisemitic “apartheid” libel against the Jewish state. It will do so in the presence of high powered attorneys and with the sponsorship of powerful law firms, including White & Case LLP and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP.

The ABILA annual conference, held in New York, will feature a panel entitled “Racism and the Crime of Apartheid in International Law,” during which three known anti-Israel ideologues will be given over an hour to promote the apartheid canard without challenge. The panelists include: Omar Shakir, the “Israel and Palestine” director for Human Rights Watch (HRW); Victor Kattan, an academic; and E. Tendayi Achiume, a United Nations “expert.” All three are on record promoting the obscene accusation of “apartheid” against Israel.

The uniformity of opinion is almost certainly no accident. Even the event’s description works to diminish the existence of differing perspectives, lazily proclaiming that “human rights organizations, UN bodies, experts, and scholars have concluded that the crime of apartheid is being committed with impunity.” It ignores the fact that those conclusions come from a limited group of activists citing each other back and forth, creating an artificial appearance of greater support. Kattan, for example, was a contributor to a 2009 report that accused Israel of apartheid, which is cited by the hyper-partisan Amnesty International. Other contributors to the 2009 report are cited in the “apartheid” report by Shakir’s organization, HRW, which in turn is cited by those same 2009 contributors for the same proposition. This creates an endless loop of self-confirmation, which is sure to be an apt description of the October 22nd panel, too.

Also ignored are the many organizations and experts who have publicly challenged the apartheid canard, such as law professors Eugene Kontorovich, Mark Goldfeder, and Avi Bell, as well as world leaders and prominent jurists like former Canadian Justice Minister and human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, former South African judge Richard Goldstone, Czech President Milos Zeman, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and French President Emmanuel Macron. Barrister Joshua Kern and Anne Herzberg in particular have produced two outstanding, thorough legal analyses on this subject.

Despite the prevalence of contrary views, and the highly controversial nature of the subject, ABILA clearly isn’t interested in allowing dissent. Only those who have openly declared Israel guilty of “systematic oppression of Palestinians” have been platformed, and Israel’s guilt was even predetermined in ABILA’s description of the panel prior to a minor stealth edit following concerned inquiries.

Instead of an intellectually engaging exploration of the law, such a panel is designed as a propaganda exercise, in which Israel, as the modern collective Jew, will be depicted as the source of the greatest contemporary evil, racism. There will be no question that Israel is guilty, leaving perhaps only mild disagreement on exactly how to prosecute the guilty Jewish state and its defenders.

To be clear, the “apartheid” libel against Israel is antisemitic in effect, even if not always in intent. It involves baseless charges, half-truths, double standards, and even openly antisemitic tropes to depict a Jewish state as uniquely illegitimate. The loudest purveyors of the libel are not coy about this, either. Earlier this year, Amnesty USA’s director admitted “we are opposed to the idea…that Israel should be preserved as a state for the Jewish people.” Ken Roth, until recently the head of HRW, similarly boasted that the “accusation of apartheid” is aimed at “perceptions of Israel’s legitimacy.”

Confronting, analyzing, and debating competing perspectives is a fundamental part of any legal education. Serious legal professionals and academics should not be afraid of differing perspectives and arguments.

Yet, we’ve recently seen law students justify the silencing of Jewish perspectives. A number of Berkeley Law student organizations effectively declared themselves as Jewish-free zones, banning anyone who holds mainstream Jewish beliefs from speaking.

Prominent legal associations shouldn’t be in the business of legitimizing such behavior by entertaining only one side of such a deeply controversial issue. Nor should serious law firms be in the business of sponsoring a one-sided antisemitic propaganda hour. This is especially concerning given that one of those firms, Debevoise & Plimpton, is also a sponsor of one of the Berkeley Law organizations behind the Jewish-free zones. Such bad practices are harmful not only to the Jewish community, but to the credibility of the legal industry as a whole.

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